With backups stepping in, teams don't miss a stride

Ravens Gameday

October 10, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

Players surfaced and disappeared at a dizzying rate yesterday.

Stepping up were Vinny Testaverde, Najeh Davenport and Joe Jurevicius, to name a few.

Among those stepping out were Richard Seymour, Andre Johnson and Carnell Williams.

If there was a theme that weaved through Week 5, it was about hanging in, playing hurt, staying tough. Standard fare in the NFL, but this week perhaps more so.

Even Mike Martz played hurt, figuratively speaking. The St. Louis Rams coach slapped on his headphones and spit out offensive plays even though he spent two groggy days in a hospital last week getting tested for a bacterial infection of a heart valve.

Did his play-calling seem any more foggy than usual? Hard to tell when his defense was shredded for 37 points and 433 yards in a dome loss to the road-challenged Seattle Seahawks.

What did seem a bit curious, though, was what transpired in Atlanta. Long before Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri delivered yet another New England rendition of "You can't stop us," and well before Matt Schaub gave a credible performance as a pinch hitter in a losing role, superstar Michael Vick disappeared. Sort of.

Actually, he went on the inactive list, a place of limbo for the infirm. But Vick, the most electric player in the league and the most exciting quarterback, was standing on the sideline on his injured left leg all game.

He sprained a ligament in his left knee last week in a cakewalk over the Minnesota Vikings, had a magnetic resonance imaging test the next day and was deemed "probable" for yesterday's game against the Patriots.

Vick missed practice Wednesday and Thursday but still kept his probable status. It wasn't until Saturday that he was downgraded to questionable. And then the gig was up.

At that point, it became obvious that Falcons coach Jim Mora wouldn't risk injuring Vick further in an inter-conference game against the AFC Patriots. As early as Wednesday, Mora had dropped a hint. He suggested that if Vick couldn't play, the team would have a certain comfort level with Schaub.

Besides, the Falcons play their first NFC South game next week in San Antonio against the New Orleans Saints. But after the Saints were drubbed, 52-3, by the Green Bay Packers, Mora may not want to chance Vick there, either. If Schaub can come within three points of the Patriots, he certainly can handle the vagabond Saints.

All of which is to say, the NFL is very careful about its injury reports, so as not to give misleading information. Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has been fined for dispensing inaccurate information, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick has gotten a call or two from the league office for his reports.

Now Belichick lists every player with so much as a bruise on his weekly report, but won't utter a syllable more. For instance, no one knew that Seymour, the Patriots Pro Bowl defensive end, wouldn't play yesterday. He hurt a knee last week blocking for a touchdown by Corey Dillon in his other job, and though the suspicion was that the injury might be relatively serious, no one knew. Belichick wouldn't discuss it.

It's all about competitive advantage. Perhaps Mora thought if the Patriots believed Vick would play, they wouldn't spend much time preparing for Schaub. And maybe that could work to their advantage. In a 31-28 loss, it almost did.

The NFL's injury report, then, is sometimes a mystery wrapped inside an enigma.

Rough on receivers

Week 5 was rough on wide receivers. A number of them didn't even make it to kickoff. In Seattle, Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram were scratched with injuries. That made Jurevicius, a former mainstay of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl team, a star.

Jurevicius pulled down a career-high nine passes for 137 yards and one touchdown after catching only seven balls in the Seahawks' previous four games.

The Cleveland Browns sent No. 1 draft pick Braylon Edwards to the hospital with an infected elbow that blew up Saturday, then watched Antonio Bryant catch two passes from Trent Dilfer for touchdowns 38 seconds apart in the fourth quarter. Bryant's handiwork helped the Browns beat the Chicago Bears, 20-10.

There was no solace for the Houston Texans, though, who lost Andre Johnson, their best receiver, to a calf injury on the first play against Tennessee. There appears to be no saving these Texans, who fell to 0-4 with a 34-20 loss to the Titans.

Hot reads

Testaverde saved the New York Jets' season with his veteran's presence in a 14-12 win over the previously unbeaten Buccaneers. The Jets had only 212 total yards but squeezed two touchdowns out of Curtis Martin. Carnell Williams, out with a hamstring injury, already looks like the Bucs' most valuable player.

Likewise, Holcomb kept the Buffalo Bills alive at 2-3 in the AFC East with a 20-14 win over the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins' five turnovers were the story there, though. Next week, the Jets and Bills meet in a battle of survivors.

Davenport stepped in for an ailing Ahman Green in Green Bay and rushed for 54 yards in the first half, buying time for Brett Favre in the pocket. It's the first time the Packers had a running game this year, and Favre reciprocated with three touchdown passes and 215 yards. In keeping with the Packers' season, Davenport scored two touchdowns, then went out with an ankle injury.


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